Preserving la historia of place: alternative approaches to evaluating historic properties



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The following thesis argues that in order to reach underrepresented communities, preservation efforts must be engaged at the local level. A way to begin to do this is to utilize analytical methods that find value in the ordinary and affirm the dynamic and referential character of buildings and the values we ascribe to them. Applying these methods to increasingly challenging preservation projects can help shape a broader yet more acute representation of our shared heritage. The thesis begins with a review of the American Latino Heritage Initiative within the framework of the Westside neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas. Intended as a large-scale effort to bring attention to the role of “Latinos” in the U.S., the initiative is evaluated for its efficacy at the local level. The interface of national goals and local needs, general characterizations and specific qualities, and standardized processes with particular circumstances brings forth the challenges of preserving places, which the current preservation system was not designed to protect. Mexican and Mexican American communities established an important cultural and physical center in San Antonio at the beginning of the 20th century. While some of the physical remnants of this rich history have been lost, others endure in the people and buildings that inhabit the Westside. Valuable local preservation initiatives have helped record their stories and highlight their significance. Nevertheless, formal preservation organizations have, until recently, failed to recognize the significance of the Mexican American heritage of the Westside. In recent years, the San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation and local groups have collaborated to begin to designate landmarks in the Westside. This thesis examines five of these buildings with the intent of identifying what makes them stand out as important landmarks in the community. Analytical mapping considers the spatial relationships between the buildings and their surrounding areas, and temporal mapping examines the change in use of each case study. A typology of values is generated from this analysis categorizing the distinguishing characteristics of the buildings. Together these exploratory methods start to define a language that goes beyond historical and aesthetic significance to recognize social, cultural and use values.